Serious Eats: New York
Vendy Award Finalist: The Biryani Cart
Editor's note: On October 18th, street vendors from all around the city will converge on the Tobacco Warehouse in Dumbo, Brooklyn for this years Vendy Awards. Tickets are only $80 and every penny goes to benefit the Street Vendor Project, a non-profit organization that fights for the rights of sidewalk vendors in New York City. Every day this week we will profile one of the five finalists, and the food they will be serving up at the competition.
Two of the five Vendy finalists are from Midtown this year, and while Kwik Meal may be the odds on favorite (they were nominated last year, and won the people's choice award) I don't think anybody should count out The Biryani Cart. Opened four and a half years ago by Meru Sikder, a former banquet chef for a New Jersey Hilton, the Biryani Cart started off as your standard Midtown chicken and rice operation with a small twist. Each day the Bangladeshi native would serve one Indian food dish as a special, alternating between chicken tikka masala and chicken biryani.
The two dishes built up a solid following, but the real breakthough came in May of 2007 when the very popular Kati Roll, located on the same block as the Biryani Cart, moved locations. Seizing the opportunity, Meru immediately added his own version of the kati roll to the cart—and from there business exploded.
The Biryani Cart serves their rolls on chapati, a slightly thinner wrapper than the paratha that Kati Roll uses. They're made in 4 different styles, each one available with chicken or gyro meat. There's the King Koti Roll (a spicy chicken tikka marinated in yogurt and spices), the buradi roll (an even spicier creation topped with a mint habanero sauce), the pune (the most mild of the four) and my personal favorite—the channai roll—a sweet and tangy roll made with a spicy Thai style chili sauce.
There is also a vegetarian roll stuffed with aloo gobi (potatoes), and two new rolls that were just introduced recently: a PWCD roll, made with egg and potato, and a roll stuffed with chapli kebab (minced meat chunks.)
In addition to serving the kati rolls at the Vendy Awards, the Biryani Cart will also be making the two Indian dishes that attracted their early customers: the namesake chicken biryani, and their version of chicken tikka masala.
Unlike the standard chicken tikka masala, which comes in a cream sauce, the Biryani Cart version is more like a chicken over rice dish you would get from other carts. The difference being the chicken is marinated in yogurt and chicken tikka spices, before being sauteed on the flat top and served over a delicious basmati rice. It's spicy, flavorful, and probably shouldn't include the word "masala" in its title.
Even better than the chicken tikka over rice is the chicken biryani dish the cart is named after. Like everything else served from the cart, the flavors are strong and spicy, and the egg korma and mango pickle are nice touches that you don't even see at most sit down Indian restaurants in Midtown.
Over the years Midtown has cultivated an all star cast of street vendors, from the aforementioned Kwik Meal (on 45th Street and 6th Avenue), to the Famous Halal Guys (on 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue), and the Hallo Berlin Cart (on 54th Street and Fifth Avenue.) Let's see if the Biryani Cart can add their name to that list by taking home the Vendy Award next Saturday. If they do, there will be a new sheriff in Midtown—and his name is Meru.
The Biryani Cart
SW Corner of 46th Street and Sixth Avenue, New York NY 10036 (map)